Oh the things we do out of frustration. Yellow snappers, Lutjanus fulviflamma, bunch together in tight schools over particular lagoon coral reefs in New Caledonia - each school has its own favorite reef and one particular spot on that reef that they seem to like. At night, school lets out and the fish race off into the turtle grass beds to go foraging for shrimps, small crabs, and the occasional fish that they find sleeping in the grass. If you already know the whereabouts of of these reef-schools you can actually see the school as a bright yellow haze from the surface. This particular reef is about 200 metres off the Escapade Island Resort wharf at Ilot Maitre. The reef corals are, as you can see, in beautiful condition and there are lots of fish because Ilot Maitre is a protected marine reserve and the fish are safe.
When I first found this school, I had an irresistible urge to take a sphere image of it. I tried again and again to get close enough with my camera, but as soon as I'd dive down, the whole school would move away. The best I could do, back then, was this image. Individual snappers sometimes split off from the school and I have often been able to get very close to them for photos, but the school is a lot more timid than the individual fish. In fact, the school is as timid as the most jumpy one in the bunch. When they are packed solid, if one fish panics when you dive down, the whole school panics and all you get is a photo of little yellow caudal fins swimming away as fast as they can. Freddy and I would team up. I'd be real quiet, take a deep breath, and just drift down next to a big coral head and not move while Freddy would swim around behind the school and try to herd them towards me. Forget it. Individual fish might fall for it but the school wouldn't. Oh I'd get a few snap-shots now and then but they were not all that interesting and what I really, truly wanted was to take was a sphere image with the fish all around the camera.
So, out of frustration, I made an underwater robot camera, waited for a day with nice clear water, then put it down in the middle of where the school liked to hang out. As I set up the robo-camera and was fiddling with the various strings, float, weights and such, Freddy said a Giant Trevally, Caranx ignobilis, more a meter long was overcome with curiosity and came close enough to see what I was doing that she thought I'd kick it. She took a photo which I've included above. We see Giant Trevally all the time on these reefs and they often follow me around when I am taking photos. If I turn the camera towards them to try to take a photo, they are gone. It's a game GT play and I've been frustrated again and again trying to get a really nice photo of them, too. After my robot was clicking away on the reef Freddy and I got back in the dinghy and left the camera to do it's thing and the fish to do their thing.
I was one happy, grinning guy as I scrolled through the photos looking at the inside view of a big yellow fish sphere with groupers and Giant Trevally like exclamation points in their midst. Yes! Frustration turned to satisfaction is really the cat's meow.
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